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AETN programs aim to break the cycle of violence in Arkansas

“U.N.I.T.Y,” a 60-minute documentary featuring a group of gang-affiliated inmates in an Arkansas maximum security prison reinventing themselves to reach beyond prison walls to keep teens from following the path to incarceration, will premiere on the Arkansas Educational Television Network (AETN) Thursday, April 28, at 7 p.m.

“’U.N.I.T.Y.’ made me wonder how many of these young men might never have to see the inside of a prison if more prevention services for at-risk youth were available in our communities,” Doug Stadter, CEO of Centers for Youth and Families, said.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, nationally the number of gangs increased by 28 percent and the number of gang members increased by six percent from 2002 to 2008.

“There is no neighborhood, there is no group of people, there is no social class, there is no economic level that is immune to drugs, that is immune to someone becoming a gang member,” Dina Tyler, Arkansas Department of Correction Assistant Director, said. “There are no boundaries; there are no limits.

“I think the first time that someone thinks, ‘Oh, it’s not gonna happen here, this happens in another part of town to another type of people,’ then they probably just increased the chances that it’s going to happen right under their foot, because they’re not paying attention.”

In 2004, inmate Alvin Williams, the late Building Captain Jackie Davis, and Prison Psychologist Richard Moore, formed the U.N.I.T.Y. (U and I helping Teen Youth) program at Tucker Maximum Security Prison in Tucker, Ark. The program is a five-month, prison-based intervention program with hopes of reaching into the community to educate youth about the consequences of negative gang activity.

“U.N.I.T.Y.” follows a class of inmates, demonstrating the unique relationship between the brothers of U.N.I.T.Y. and how such a program can help to slow the tide of violence and incarceration for today's youth. Along the way, viewers meet anti-violence advocates around the state who are trying to slow the tide of juvenile bad choices, violence, gang affiliation, incarceration and death.

“I will tell you, prevention and intervention is just as important as suppression and enforcement,” Steve Nawojczyk, staff development and training administrator, Arkansas Department of Human Services, Division of Youth Services, said. “And, essentially, that is what the U.N.I.T.Y. program does within the walls of that prison.

“They work very hard on prevention among the participants in the program. That spills over into the inmates’ families and the message that they spread back to the street. The reality is that many of those guys continue to be shot-callers, and they have influence on the street. So why not try to spin that into positive influence rather than negative influence?”

Major funding for “U.N.I.T.Y.” was provided by the Charles A. Frueauff Foundation. Additional funding was provided by the Morris Foundation Inc., the Munro Foundation and the Jane Howard Foundation.

AETN will air two other locally-produced documentaries in conjunction with “U.N.I.T.Y.,” “Therapeutic Justice: Life Inside Drug Court” at 8 p.m. and “Woodruff: A Lesson of Non-Violence” at 8:30 p.m.

“Therapeutic Justice: Life Inside Drug Court” is a documentary about the innovative and successful Washington-Madison County Drug Court in Fayetteville. The film shows the inner workings of this rehabilitation program through the eyes of a judge and a professional football player who struggles with drug addiction. Of 2,400 drug courts in the country, this is the only one with its own TV show and the only court to hold actual sessions inside local schools.

The documentary analyzes tough issues surrounding the program, including ethical concerns over the broadcasting of drug court. Washington-Madison County Drug Court appears on TV in 200,000 households in Northwest Arkansas. Some participants in the program are wary of airing their intimate details in front of the camera, but many recognize the educational value of such a TV show.

There are ongoing efforts to keep the drug court program alive. Despite one of the highest success rates in the country, Fayetteville’s drug court is in danger of being terminated if it doesn't receive much-needed funding from the state. The program was produced by Jesse Abdenour with services provided by the University of Arkansas Walter J. Lemke Department of Journalism.

“Woodruff: A Lesson of Non-Violence” tells the story of Woodruff Elementary School, which opened under a big top tent in the fall of 1911. The doors of the new building were soon open, and for 98 years it served as an anchor for a changing neighborhood. In 1988, with the neighborhood under siege from gang rivalries, a new era began. A dedicated principal, counselor and staff launched an experiment in conflict resolution that lasted until the school closed as an elementary school in June 2009.

Through this experiment, students learned to work out disputes, avoid fights and celebrate non-violence, and, in the process, academic performance and test scores soared. During its final days in 2009, Woodruff finished a run of more than 300 days without a fight and was Little Rock’s only recognized school of “excellence.” The program was produced by Ron Blome with major funding from the Arkansas Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND).

The Arkansas Educational Television Network (AETN) is Arkansas’s statewide public television network that enhances lives by providing lifelong learning opportunities for people from all walks of life. AETN delivers local, award-winning productions and classic, trusted PBS programs aimed at sharing Arkansas and the world with viewers. AETN depends on the generosity of Arkansans and the State of Arkansas to continue offering quality programming. For more information, visit www.aetn.org, or follow the AETN blog at www.aetn.org/engage. AETN is broadcast on KETS (Little Rock), KEMV (Mountain View), KETG (Arkadelphia), KAFT (Fayetteville), KTEJ (Jonesboro), and KETZ (El Dorado).

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